Carnegie Mellon University

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January 18, 2022

Twenty years later, the Friedman Fellowship continues to immerse CMU students in Washington, DC

By Bill Brink

Cynthia Friedman felt the allure of Washington, DC early in her political career. The people who change the world do so from inside the Beltway, and she wanted to immerse herself in that culture.

After four years on the Johnstown, Pennsylvania town council, she told her husband, Milton, “I’ve got to do something a bit bigger.” She enrolled in George Washington University to earn a Master’s degree in Public Administration and felt the energy vibrating throughout the nation’s capital.

“Washington is a very heady experience,” said Friedman, a CMU trustee emerita. “There’s power there, let’s face it. You can read about what that power means in the front pages of the newspapers, and you can be on the ground sometimes in an office where these things are taking place, and you’re called upon to help.”

Friedman wanted to empower Carnegie Mellon University students to experience the city as she had. In 2000, with a significant grant from Friedman in honor of her husband Milton, a CMU alumnus, the Friedman Fellowships were born. Twenty years later, the grants, available to Carnegie Mellon students from any course of study, have helped more than 300 students intern in DC, an experience that launched careers for many of them.

“Let’s bring some of these students to Washington, let them do a summer internship, and have the experience of meeting their colleagues, people their age and older, and see how Washington works,” Friedman said. “They’ll have that network to refer to as they go on in their future careers.”

By the time Friedman proposed the Fellowship program, she had been active in Democratic politics in DC for twenty-three years. In 1993, she co-founded the Women’s Leadership Forum, a Democratic National Committee finance council that recruits and engages women in Democratic politics.

“So many women had taken leading roles that they were not on the front page any longer in the Democratic party, and they needed to be,” Friedman said. “This was a way to bring them into the fold and be recognized.”

Jared Cohon, Carnegie Mellon’s president at the time of the Friedman Fellowship’s creation, understood the magic of DC firsthand. In the 1970s, he served as legislative assistant for energy and the environment to New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. So when Friedman proposed the fellowship to Cohon, he liked the idea, and the pipeline for CMU students began.

“You have a certain number of summers in school,” said Angelina Nonye-John (DC 2014), who interned in Washington in 2014. “You can explore. You should definitely try it.”

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Nonye-John received quite an introduction to the city. She had conducted energy research at Carnegie Mellon prior to interviewing for an internship with the Corporate Council on Africa. During her interview, the Minister of Power from the Niger Republic was in the office, meeting with staffers about energy investing. “‘Go sit in the meeting and take notes,’” they told her. “‘If you ask questions, make sure they’re good ones.’ I was like, I guess I got the internship, right?”

She returned to DC after graduation and now works for Catholic Relief Services, as the Manager of Research and Relationship Mapping, in the Washington-Baltimore area. Many Friedman Fellowship participants find themselves back in Washington at some point in their careers, drawn to the heartbeat of the country.

“It was my first experience living and working in DC,” said Brian Namey (DC 2003). “The Friedman Fellowship made it possible for me to experience what it’s like to live and work in Washington, DC, and it really laid the groundwork for what’s been a seventeen-year career here.”

Namey interned with the Democratic Governor’s Organization. After he graduated Carnegie Mellon and completed his Master’s degree at the University of Oxford, he called his old boss at the DGA about a job. She knew the quality of his work and told him, “We don’t have any openings, but when can you start?”

“It was a pretty amazing experience that I converted that internship, made possible by the Friedman Fellowship, into what began a long career here,” said Namey, who is now the Chief Public Affairs Officer for the National Association of Counties.

Peter Hendrickson (DC 2012) had already gotten a taste of DC, and he used the Friedman Fellowship to go back for more. One year after interning in the office of Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Doyle, Hendrickson interned at the State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, conducting analysis of chemicals available on the open market that could be used to develop nerve agents. Today, Hendrickson is a Senior Operations Research Analyst at the National Nuclear Security Administration. 

“Maybe the most important thing was that I realized that I wanted to be in civil service,” Hendrickson said.

Jessica Dickinson Goodman (DC 2012) interned for an organization called World Organization for Human Rights USA, a legal advocacy group that fought human trafficking and human rights abuses against women. She was one of sixteen people in the office, located above a pizza shop off Dupont Circle, and she reviewed medical and legal files to write sufficiently anonymized descriptions of human rights abuse cases such that traffickers and abusers could not find the clients, but the lawyers and donors understood their plight.

Dickinson Goodman has spent the ensuing decade in advocacy and politics, running digital communications and raising money to fight human trafficking, serving as the scheduler for Kamala Harris’ Senate campaign, and working as an impact coach in the State Department’s Techwomen program. Recently, as the board president of the Internet Society’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter, she applied for and received a grant of $30,000 to provide better internet access to local Native Americans.

“Those same skills during the Friedman Fellowship were ones I was using as part of that role – researching deeply, being really clear on what I needed, knowing how to build relationships, being responsible and responsive, and just having a vision and then working really hard to get it done,” Dickinson Goodman said.

Though the program can be a natural fit for those interested in politics or government, immersion in a city of Washington, DC’s caliber offers benefits for students from all academic backgrounds. Gisselt Gomez (CFA 2020, HNZ 2022), an Architecture major, used the Friedman Fellowship to intern at the Climate Institute in 2019, then remained in DC for the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program that fall and interned with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Zofia Majewski (CMU 2022), a Vocal Performance major, interned at the Kennedy Center for the Arts last summer. Kathleen Hill (HNZ 2020) served as a graduate intern in the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of Federal/State Partnership in 2019.

“What the Friedman Fellowship really allowed me to do was not take on any additional financial burdens in going to one of the cities that has fairly high rent rates and cost-of-living expenses associated with it,” Hill said. “It made the decision for me to pursue my personal passions professionally a lot easier.”

When Juan Acosta (DC 2015) was younger, his family lacked the means for extensive travel, limiting his exposure to cities other than Pittsburgh and his hometown of Miami. The Friedman Fellowship exposed him to Washington, DC. He learned about research and policy while interning at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, during which he discovered his love for the town. The day after graduation, he hopped on a Megabus to DC to begin a job at the Library of Congress.

“I’m glad that I did the Friedman program because I realized that DC was such a great place to live and work,” said Acosta, who, after stops at Booz Allen Hamilton and Ernst & Young, now works for Amazon in DC. “ … The big takeaway for me was the exposure to the city itself.” 

Karl Sjogren (DC 2007, HNZ 2008) learned what he liked and disliked about DC. While interning for the Democratic Governors Association in 2006, he saw how deals were done, how power was acquired, and realized that though public policy in that realm was not for him, the city was – and the Friedman Fellowships greased those wheels. 

“I definitely think the program and the resources that Carnegie Mellon gives students are immensely valuable,” Sjogren said. “The learning you save by being elevated with the power of the university to a higher plane of these areas is really insightful.”

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Sjogren went on to work for Deloitte, Google, Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Okta. Not only did the internship provide a referendum on his preferred place of employment, but it provided access to an upper echelon of experiences inside the beltway.

“Carnegie Mellon has a bias toward analysis, but sometimes a lot of truth can be learned very quickly from doing,” he said. “Whether it’s the Friedman program, or a sojourn to LA or Silicon Valley, or finance in New York, whatever someone is thinking about that they might want to do, the greatest enemy people have is usually themselves.”

For more information about the Friedman Fellowships, contact Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program Manager Meghan Mattern and Graduate Program Manager Kelly Voss – and listen to advice from the program’s alumni.

“Take advantage of the fact that there are a lot of interns that are here for the summer and make that effort to connect with folks, to get to know folks,” said Amy Shields (DC 2008, HNZ 2009), who interned at the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network in 2005 and is now the Executive Director of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. “Take advantage of a lot of free offerings that happen across the city to explore and network.”

Sjogren echoed that sentiment: Go to everything.

“People love the enthusiasm of interns in the summer and the events, the networking,” said Sjogren, who still has friends from his summer in DC.

The Fellowships are not only for those interested in politics or policy.

“I’ve had friends who come to DC and they studied EPP [Engineering and Public Policy] or Civil Engineering, and they went to DC and they got policy experience,” Nonye-John said. “Then they decided, ‘OK, maybe I don’t want to work on the policy side,’ but they still have a lot of connections and have had that policy experience that has helped them later in their careers.” 

That was Cynthia Friedman’s intention from the program’s inception.

“This is an age which is just terrific,” she said. “Nobody has any baggage, everybody’s on their own, the world is open to them, and what you can put in front of them to show them what it’s about and how rewarding things can be can influence them the rest of their lives.”